Assessing the relegation candidates

The Championship is really hotting up now. Brentford seem to be taking charge in the title race. They're competing closely with Swansea and Norwich and there are only eight teams who are more than 10 points away from the playoffs.

This is one of the closest seasons in the second tier in history and the tale is no different at the bottom.

With Wycombe currently cut adrift at the bottom, finding themselves 11 points behind their nearest competitors, the other two spots could be taken up by a plethora of teams. This goes right up to 14th placed Millwall, though even then there are seven teams within five points of them.

Frankly, it’s impossibly tight to call, but here we look at those most likely to be involved in a relegation battle and make a conclusion on who I think will be in League 1 come the end of the season.

The Candidates

Wycombe Wanderers

In what has been the most predictable Championship plotline of the season, Wycombe seem dead-set to be relegated. They have nine fewer points than Birmingham and Sheffield Wednesday, who are joint on points ahead of them.

It has been a fine season for the Chairboys, who were fully aware that they would be punching over their weight in this division. Performances of late have been positive, but the gulf in quality was highlighted in the defeat to Derby. They should be proud of their effort and dedication, but I’m afraid that they are nailed on to be relegated.

Verdict: Rock bottom

Birmingham City

There was a fair amount of optimism coming into this season for Birmingham. Aitor Karanka is a good manager at this level and some of the summer signings seemed like inspired choices.

Spain international Mikel San Jose, as well as Alen Halilovic have both been brought in as left-field signings and their individual quality is there to see. But chronic underperformance within the whole side has meant The Blues have struggled.

The signing of Sam Cosgrove should add some composure in front of goal once fit, and Yan Valery will be more able to find his head with his quality crossing ability. I’m predicting an upturn in Birmingham’s results but will they survive? I'm not convinced.

Verdict: Relegation

Sheffield Wednesday

I can keep this one relatively short for you. I believe Wednesday are staying up. I think they are very lucky to be in the Championship with their points deduction being delayed until the start of this season, but I don’t think they are going down.

Since they cut their losses on the foolish appointment of Tony Pulis, there has been a mightily impressive improvement in terms of both performances and results. Despite their lack of depth, they have good quality in that squad and, so long as they don’t fall into an injury crisis, there will be enough to carry them over the line.

Verdict: Survive, just

Rotherham United

If being a yo-yo side was an art, Rotherham are Vincent Van Gogh.

They last successfully maintained their position in the second tier in the 2015-16 season when they were nine points clear of relegation. The next season they finished dead last. They then went up through the League 1 playoffs, were relegated again from the championship in 2018-19, and then promoted again last season.

This year, they are far from an easy team to beat. Paul Warne has learned a lot about how to manage in this division and, having won three of their last five games with a game in hand over most of their competitors, they look like they’re in a good position to survive this season. Key to their survival will be maintaining their goalscoring form.

Rotherham have scored 38 goals this season, which is more than anyone else in the bottom half of the table. If players like Michael Smith can maintain their performances, I think they will have enough to win a second successive season in the Championship.

Verdict: Survive, easily

Coventry City

It has not been a bad season at all for Coventry City. Their 3-2 win against Reading stands out as a high point given that the Royals were unbeaten at the time. Tactically, there is a real identity to the newly-promoted side and they know how to grind out victories when they are under the cosh.

Gustavo Hamer has been exceptional for them this season, and the acquisition of Matty James on loan from Leicester in January was a major coup considering the quality of his performances for Barnsley earlier in the season.

There are a great many reasons to be positive for Cov fans, but the Sky Blues have only won one game in their last six and face tough fixtures against Norwich, Brentford, Swansea and Blackburn in their next five. It will be a real test of their Championship credentials and they’ll need to win a few points to stay clear of the drop zone.

Verdict: Relegation

Derby County

What a weird season it has been for Derby. With the quality of the youth players coming through, it seemed that the Rams would finally be able to threaten under the stewardship of Phillip Cocu.

They didn’t. It was four matches before they recorded their first win, then it took another 12 games before they got their second. Cocu was sacked, Wayne Rooney was hired. The takeover was imminent, then it was imminent again, then once more, and now we don’t know what is happening.

January saw a lot of young talent leave the club so that wages could be paid and, to add insult to injury, Krystian Bielik, Derby’s best player this season, has now been ruled out for months.

However, since Wayne Rooney took over there has been an upturn in results, most recently an impressive victory against Middlesborough, but losing Bielik is sure to have a massive impact.

Lee Gregory and Patrick Roberts offer first team quality, while Teden Mengi, Beni Baningime and George Edmundsen offer much-needed depth. With the spectre of financial difficulties hanging over the teams head, it will take quite a triumph to avoid the drop this season.

Verdict: Survival by the skin of their teeth

Huddersfield Town

The Terriers started the season pretty well. After narrowly avoiding relegation last season, it seemed that Carlos Corberan was leading the Yorkshire side to a solid mid-table finish.

Impressive wins against Swansea City, Middlesbrough and Watford stand out as the rookie manager attempted to bring in a high tempo, pressing style of football to the John Smith Stadium. Then the injuries came.

Rarmani Edmonds-Green, Carel Eiting, Tommy Elphick, Jonathan Hogg, Christopher Schindler, Richard Stearman and, perhaps most vitally, Josh Koroma. With so many players unavailable it is not a surprise that the Terriers are being sucked back into a relegation battle. They've yet to win a game in 2021 and need to arrest the dip immediately.

The loss to Wycombe most recently was particularly poor but, for all the poor defending, they did at least score twice. There are signs of encouragement in fits and bursts, but consistency is key here and Carlos Corberan needs to find some immediately.

Verdict: Survive with a couple of games to go

Queens Park Rangers

QPR are on great form and have two games in hand on a lot of their competition down at the bottom of the league. This means that QPR could be only seven points from the top six once they have drawn level on games played with the rest of the league.

So why are they included in this list?

Mark Warburton’s side have picked up over a third of their point total in their last five games and, while this could be a sign that the Hoops are going to really kick on in the second half of the season, it could also be merely a purple patch.

The London side were awful for large swathes of the season and there is a good possibility that the bad times could come again. I think that they’ll be safe but don’t rule them out of the relegation battle just yet.

Verdict: Survive comfortably

Nottingham Forest

From the edge of playoff football last season to the edge of League 1 this year, it has been quite a capitulation for Forest.

The rot does seem to have been arrested by the appointment of Chris Hughton though and Forest have taken eleven points from their last six games. There has been a steady improvement and, with Hughton at the helm, I can see that improvement continuing. They’ll be fine.

Verdict: Survive, comfortably

By Theo Hewson-Betts | @thewsonbetts


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